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The 15-Seconds Blog

  • Staying On Message To A Fault

    Houston Texans running back Arian Foster met the media at training camp today and had an answer for all their questions.

    Unfortunately for the reporters — it was the same answer to every question. Check this out.

  • A Crisis In Your Crisis Communications

    Crises happen at inconvenient times. The test of a good communications operations is to be able to adjust your messaging on the fly. The Obama administration did not distinguish themselves in that regard yesterday responding to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17.


    It was late morning in Washington, D.C. when word broke about the plane having crashed — and there was immediate speculation that it might have been shot down over Ukraine. While “first reports are often wrong” — in this case the initial information appeared to sadly be on target.

    A short while later Air Force One was taking off for a trip to Delaware where the President was scheduled to speak at an event urging greater spending on infrastructure like roads and bridges.

    Press Secretary Josh Earnest went to the back of the plane to speak to pool reporters in what the White House calls a “gaggle” – a quick, informal news conference. The transcript shows that at 12:10 PM Earnest started with a three paragraph statement about the importance of infrastructure. That was the White House’s agenda…but not the media’s. The first question — and in fact every one after that in the 11 minute session — was about the reports of the downed aircraft.

    It took four questions before someone asked about any contact with the Russians — and Earnest revealed that President Obama had taken a call from President Putin earlier in the day. Apparently at this point Earnest had little information about the call (it was only later that the White House revealed that Putin had in fact raised the crash in the call.)


    Two hours later the President strode to the lectern at his broken bridge event in Delaware and opened with 97 words about the crash.   If the President was reading from the teleprompter — as is usually the case — his communications staff let him down.  He should have said more — and he should have said it better.  Saying (the crash) “looks like it may be a terrible tragedy” was an  unforced error.  Just hours after the event it was too soon to declare the shoot down an act of terror, or a blunder – he might even have held out the notion that it was a mechanical accident — but “MAY BE” at terrible tragedy?  Under what scenario would it not be?

    The President went on (briefly) to say that  “Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard. That is our first priority.” Imagine how that sounded to the non-American families of the 298 people on board. Not the best message for a world leader. As important as finding out if Americans were on board — the first priority should be finding out what happened and preventing a recurrence.

    The State Department was no better. At 1:27 PM the State Department regular press briefing started with spokeswoman Jen Psaki opening with a statement about Afghan election ballot auditing.  An important subject – but not what the world was focused on at the moment. Again, the spokesperson left it to reporters to raise the subject first. State’s fixation on their own agenda didn’t go down well with Shep Smith of Fox News.

    While the White House and State Department were too reticent with their crisis communications, Vice President Biden might have taken the opposite approach (accurately) saying early on that it appeared the plane had be “blown out of the sky.”